With only four athletes who competed in last year's Division I regional meet among the more than 150 who came out for the program this spring, the Olentangy Liberty High School boys track and field team has talked extensively about mental toughness.
The Patriots are trying to figure out how to close the gap in the OCC-Buckeye Division after finishing fourth last season and also how to have more success in the postseason after not having any athletes advance to state.
They opened April 6 by finishing third (76) in the eight-team Panther Invitational behind Hilliard Davidson (126) and host Hilliard Darby (89).
"As a team we've really focused on our mindset all offseason in both improving our mind and body and everything that we do," junior sprinter and long jumper Gavin Smith said. "We know we're capable of big things as a unit, and the new attitude towards the program can help us tremendously in the long run. Of course we want to compete for a district title and a state appearance, but we will treat every step as an opportunity to improve and grow as an entire team."
Among the top returnees is senior Andrew Bendick, who ran on the 12th-place 400-meter relay (43.96 seconds) and ninth-place 800 relay (1:30.4) at regional last spring.
The others returnees who competed at regional are juniors Adam Clark and Joseph Johnson, who ran on the 10th-place 3,200 relay (8:08.84), and senior Jared Whitfield, who was 14th in the high jump (5 feet, 10 inches).
Johnson also was sixth in the 800 (1:55.99).
Bendick, who is expected to concentrate on middle-distance races, and Whitfield lead a senior class that also includes Nick Anderson (1,600), Kyle Coleman (shot put, discus), Doug Denoi (middle distance), Jacob Hunter (pole vault), Will Koberna (middle distance), Ryan Miller (hurdles), Dmitri Minto (shot put, discus) and Chris Osborne (shot put, discus).
Bendick's brother, Luke Bendick, is a junior who competes in the pole vault.
Juniors Justin Chrisman, Hank Hoffman and Ubby Suligavi and sophomores Aidan McClure and Matthew Onate are key sprinters.
Sophomore Jack Humenay is another top distance runner, and juniors Mitchell Reitz and Jake Sincek should be the top hurdlers.
Junior Alex Azusenis also is competing in the shot put and discus, with juniors Alex Adams and Alec Monnin among the top high and long jumpers.
"We're excited about the junior class," third-year coach Nate Cikach said. "This has been the best offseason we've ever had since I've been here and it was our best indoor season as well. As a whole, it's the most committed group we've had. Our goal is to compete to get better and compete for each other."
Girls track team has veteran look
The girls track program also has more than 100 athletes out, including two of its three competitors from last year's Division I state meet.
Senior Emma Bower, who was ninth in the 3,200 (11:02.3), and junior Gracie Sprankle, who was 12th in the 1,600 (5:06.45), provide the Patriots a strong base on which to build.
That duo also helped Liberty finish third in the Division I state cross country meet last fall, with Sprankle leading all of central Ohio with a fourth-place finish and Bower placing ninth.
Liberty opened April 6 by placing third (100) in the eight-team Panther Invitational behind host Darby (136) and Davidson (103).
"I feel really good about our senior and junior classes," eighth-year coach James Dingus said. "We've been young the past couple years. There's just a really good core of girls back."
Senior Sarah Colvin, who also was among the Patriots' top seven in cross country, is another key distance runner.
Returning to the lead the sprint corps are seniors Sydney Englehart and Lauren Walsh and juniors Carrie Lawal, Sienna Sakich and Brea White.
In last year's regional, Englehart, Lawal and White joined 2017 graduate Abby Summers on the fifth-place 800 relay (1:42.47), while Englehart, Sakich, Summers and Walsh were seventh in the 400 relay (48.87).
"The team has been really excited to finally start our outdoor season," Walsh said. "There's a lot of talent in each grade and it's going to be an exciting season. The seniors are already having a lot of fun and can't wait to finish off the year with track."
Freshmen Sydney Reed and Nicole Tonetti are other sprinters who should contribute.
Junior Lily Biros and freshman Audrey Piero are other distance runners.
Seniors Sophia Englehart and Kelsey Mockler and junior Reagan Smollen are the top hurdlers.
Sydney Englehart also will compete in the long jump along with Smollen and freshman Olivia Brinkman.
Senior Lizzy Croop and juniors Niki Kirkham and Mollie Kunar are part of the team's throwing contingent.
Senior Jenna Culver, who has committed to Otterbein, junior Cameryn Jefferson and freshman Sophie Culver are among the team's high jumpers.
Sophomore Tara Jones is the top returnee in the pole vault after the Patriots lost Sam Silber to graduation.
Silber, who is now competing for South Carolina, finished eighth (12-0) at state.
"We're really junior and senior heavy, so it's kind of exciting to see what they can do," Dingus said. "There are some freshmen that have really shined in the offseason and in indoor."
Young talent lifting boys tennis team
The boys tennis team is hoping more depth will help it win close matches this spring.
The Patriots opened March 23 with a 3-2 loss to Worthington Kilbourne, but second-year coach Josh Matusky doesn't believe it was an accurate indicator of results to come because three of his players were out sick.
"Last year we had about seven (3-2 losses) that could have easily gone the other way," Matusky said. "We're young but have a lot of talent."
Vishnu Bodavula won at first singles against Kilbourne and is expected to remain at that spot despite being a freshman.
He's replacing 2017 graduate Hoang Do, who is now competing for Ohio Northern.
Liberty lost 4-1 to Orange on April 5 in its OCC-Buckeye opener. Orange won last year's league title at 5-0, ahead of Olentangy (4-1) and Liberty (3-2).
"(Bodavula) is definitely a very strong player," Matusky said. "He's played at clubs around here and is a strong freshman. We're lucky to have such a talented guy."
Sophomore Marcelo Aguilar is at second singles after reaching the second round of the Division I sectional at Reynoldsburg last season.
Senior Adithya Nair is at third singles and won the Patriots' other court against Kilbourne. Last season, he teamed with Do to lose in the first round of doubles at district.
Senior K.J. Lawal, who lost in the first round at sectional, is expected to be a regular at first doubles but also could see time in singles.
Senior Samanyu Das and sophomore Tarun Nandakumar, who lost in the second round of sectional in doubles, are other key returnees.
Senior Alan Wu, sophomores Alvin Anand and Srihar Shakrabarthy and freshmen Matt Bu, Arvind Nair and Nanda Srivenkateswaran also figure to see significant varsity action.
"From our fifth player on, we're extremely deep and very young," Matusky said. "They're a very talented group. We're definitely a lot deeper this year."
March 23 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
*April 5 -- at Olentangy Orange
*April 10 -- vs. Westerville South
April 11 -- vs. Upper Arlington
*April 12 -- at Westerville North
April 14 -- at Marion Pleasant
April 16 -- at Hilliard Darby
*April 17 -- vs. Westerville Central
*April 19 -- at Olentangy
April 21 -- at Hilliard Davidson
April 24 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
April 25 -- at Hilliard Davidson
April 26 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
April 28 -- Worthington Cup at Thomas Worthington
April 30 -- at Marysville
May 1 -- at Delaware
May 2 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
May 3 -- vs. Bexley
May 9 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
TRACK & FIELD
April 6 -- Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby
April 10 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
April 14 -- Vandalia Butler Invitational
April 16 -- at Olentangy Orange
April 20 -- Freedom Relays at home
April 24 -- vs. Hilliard Darby
April 27 -- Marion Harding Night Invitational and Olentangy Invitational
April 30 -- vs. Olentangy and Worthington Christian
May 4 -- Delaware County Elite 8 at Olentangy Orange
May 10, 12 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at Olentangy Orange
Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball and boys volleyball teams:
*April 13 -- Home vs. Westerville North
April 14 -- Home vs. Mount Vernon and Big Walnut
*April 16 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
*April 18 -- At Westerville Central
*April 12 -- At Westerville South
April 14 -- At Lake Forest (Ill.)
April 15 -- At New Trier (Ill.)
*April 17 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
*April 12 -- Home vs. Westerville South
*April 13 -- Home vs. Westerville North
*April 17 -- At Orange
April 18 -- At Granville
*April 12 -- Home vs. Westerville South
April 13 -- Home vs. Hilliard Darby
April 14 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome (DH)
*April 16 -- At Westerville North
*April 18 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
*April 12 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
*April 17 -- At Olentangy